MADRID to JOHANNESBURG LX2027/LX288 – TWO LION CUBS ON BOARD
As we approached the October 15th departure date, we started to panic. Two important documents from SA were still missing; the veterinary import permit and the Cites import permit. Worse yet, nobody could tell us when they would be available. We were forced to move the departure date to the 28th of October. We cancelled our reservations and notified everyone that we were not coming. Disappointment loomed everywhere. The building of the transport cage had to be delayed. The cubs were growing daily. We were worried that the internal dimensions of the transport would not be large enough. The cubs were putting on 300 to 400 grams per day. They were growing fast. In order to continue building the transport, and be prepared for departure, we needed to measure the cub’s height and length daily which was not an easy thing to do as they never really kept still. Yame thought the tape measure was a new toy and chased it around. There were dimension limitations from cargo as well and it all became frustrating guess work.
Every day that passed our anxiety increased exponentially. We were calling SA everyday to ask about the permits, the forwarder, and Swiss cargo to make sure they were ready to act as soon as the last permit became available. Finally, October 24th, late in the afternoon, just before the weekend started, we got the expected news – all permits were available. The rush was on to tie up all the loose ends. With only three working days left and our blood pressures rising, we decided to move the boys on the 30th. We still needed to get airline confirmation from cargo for that date, get our tickets, inspect and complete the transporter by the eve of departure, and get final veterinarian health certificates for travelling, etc. Everything fell into place on October 30th and we got the green light to go!
Many people gathered at the center Fauna y Accion to see the boys off and wish them well. As Tete, (The Lion Whisperer of Spain and the love of the cub’s life), pulled the dolly up to load the boys into their transport, a lot of tears were shed by all the people at the center who had spent over three months of their lives caring for and loving dearly little Yame and George.
Yame wanted nothing to do with getting into that unfamiliar box that had nothing to do with the life he had come to know. Tete had to push him from behind but Yame had his brakes on and it took a big, big shove to move him forward and inside. George, of course was less of a problem. The only thing he wanted was to be with his brother and entered into the transport quite calmly. However, neither of them were happy.
Tete loaded the transport into the truck and we started down the road. Everyone waved good-bye. We were on our way to the airport and another adventurous chapter in the lives Yame and George.
The cubs were already stressed when we arrived to the airport and I thought, “Oh dear me. They haven’t even started the trip yet. This is not going to be easy.”
We found the airport cargo area packed with the Spanish Guardia de Civil, airport security personnel, veterinarians, and numerous other airport officials. At first we thought there was a VIP around or something of that nature. When we pulled up to the cargo loading zone, we found that all of the fuss was about the cubs. All of the people there were either there for the security and protection of Yame and George, veterinary processing, curiosity, and well wishers. There must have been 30 people hanging around and we were overwhelmed by such support and kindness. The cubs were unloaded and disappeared into the Swiss Air Cargo building.
We said good-bye to Tete and his wife Paty. Luis and I may have rescued little Yame and George from a horrible fate which probably would have meant their death if we hadn’t, but Tete and Paty gave them their lives back by the love and amazing care they gave them. We knew nothing about healing sick lions and we are so very grateful for those at Fauna y Accion who gave so much unconditionally for the boys.
After checking ourselves on to the same flight with the boys, we were able to watch them being loaded on the plane. It was quite an emotional moment – a very impressive handling of the operation by Swiss Air Spanish employees - very professionally and smoothly done. Interestingly enough, we found that our own seats on the plane coincided with Yame and George situated right below us. If only they could have heard our familiar call. We were finally on our way to South Africa and the new home of Yame and George with Kevin Richardson.
It wasn’t a long flight via Zurich. Under two hours. When we landed, the captain of the plane sought us out and asked if we were the people with the lions on board. He escorted us personally to where the cubs were being unloaded from the cargo area of the plane and we were able to talk with them. They were stressed but in good condition. Remember though, this was a short flight and the biggie was yet to be taken.
I cannot remember the last time I had suffered such anguish - just thinking about the boys and what they must be going through. When we finally arrived to our destination we were greeted by members of our CACH team. All of us went directly to cargo looking for the cubs. It wasn’t hard to find them as there was a crowd circled around something that we knew must be the cub’s transport. Kevin Richardson was there and a few reporters. Little George was very stressed and he had lost some fur and skin in various places on his face. It was mandatory to have a divider between the cubs during flight. They were together and could see each other but they couldn’t reach each other. George had rubbed his face trying to get to his brother. He looked pitiful. He had gone through a trauma once again.
The ride to Kevin’s sanctuary was a long one and I kept telling myself that at least this was the end of it. They would suffer no more. They were going home finally forever.
Waiting for Yame and George at Kevin’s Wildlife Sanctuary was a lovely, open, peaceful, enclosed area from where they can see the golden Savannah fields, the acacia trees, and Africa’s wildlife roaming freely around in front of them. This area is to be their home for the time being while their new enclosure is being built. Once that is ready, they will reside there for a few more months while Kevin performs “his magic” and makes the right decision for where he wants “his boys” to become a part of his family of lions.
So, how do Luis and I feel now? LOST! We have spent the last three and a half months of our lives loving Yame and George. We started the process of healing their little bodies and repairing their broken spirits. We have hugged them and cuddled them - all of which was necessary as they never knew what a mother’s love could mean. And most important, helped them to learn how to trust again. We are going to be very lonely without them. Our lives have changed forever. But we feel such joy in our hearts knowing that they will have such special lives and grow into very big lions and will forever be ambassadors for their own kind. Hopefully, others all over the world will learn from them. We need to change the hearts of people. Compassion and love will win through. These two little boys will see to that.
We will carry our love for Yame and George in our hearts and will forever be grateful to them for all that they have taught us. We started this rescue thinking that we would teach THEM about love and forgiveness and trust, but they are the ones in the end that taught us. “We love you our little lions.”
We wish to thank Swiss Cargo for their generosity and Swiss crew and personnel for all of the support given to us in making this move for Yame and George to South Africa possible.
Fauna y Accion - Madrid
Thursday 30th October - time to leave for SA
Yame and George - arrive at Kevin Richardson's sanctuary